Three years since seven Prince George's County schools were transformed into kindergarten through eighth grade academies, school officials say the format better prepares middle school-aged students for high school and beyond.
"This has the potential to be hugely successful," said Glenda Washington, principal of William W. Hall Academy. "In a K-8 setting, there is a better chance of fostering relationships. That's what's needed to have the type of results we're hoping to see in children, which is higher achievement."
A. Duane Arbogast, the school system's chief academic officer, said the Board of Education voted in 2009 to consolidate under-enrolled schools and converted seven schools into K-8 academies. Arbogast said the consolidation of select schools into K-8 academies was done to offer continuity in the types of academic programs, such as visual and performing arts offered, so an education focus stays with the students longer.
"It's all about the continuity of programs," he said. "So for French immersion, we don't want there to be a French immersion elementary school and then not a middle school."
Arbogast said test scores of K-8 academies do not show a significant increase or decrease in performance.
Washington said the Capitol Heights school has become a family-like environment for students by instilling the idea that the 535 students should treat all 30 teachers as if they were their own.
"There are teams of teachers teaming on two grades, so the children may see four teachers one year, then next year they'll see two new ones and two who are the same," said Washington, who added that strategy has helped students feel comfortable and, in turn, perform better in their education and be more open to learning.
Amy Hansen, PTA president at Greenbelt Middle School, which has a traditional middle school model with grades six through eight, said it might be better for students to transition into new schools with new teachers and students.
"You're getting a bigger variety of kids and can offer more courses," Hansen said. "You have the potential of being able to offer courses like French and Spanish, but you can't do that when you have a smaller population of students."
At the Accokeek Academy, Principal Judy Adams said having a K-8 structure allows the students to be better thinkers and have a more organized mind.
Still, some K-8 school parents say they have seen some downsides to the setup.
Ray Lacy of Accokeek has two children attending Accokeek Academy and is a member of the school's Parent Teacher Student Association. He said the focus of the K-8 structure is on "college-readiness" when it should be more geared toward "high-school ready."
"My daughters went through that K to 5 model and once they reached the middle school grades the teachers aren't as patient," he said. "They don't have the time to give students chances to ask questions, everything is more of a rush, rush, rush atmosphere. They need to spend more time to allow students to have input."